I did something very interesting yesterday. I posted a comment on Tara Smith’s Aetiology in response to an HIV denier. He was making some comments that just didn’t track with everything I’ve learned about HIV, so I thought I’d try to address some of his misconceptions.

Big mistake.

Boy did I get flamed. I don’t know what I expected, really. I mean, did I expect a rational argument from someone who clearly isn’t rational?

Looking back, my goal wasn’t necessarily to argue with him, but to try to bring some of my experience to bear on the some of the issues for other readers. Hopefully I succeeded.

But you know, in the midst of his vitriol, he did bring up one very good point. The fact is I know very little about those who deny that HIV causes AIDS, and I should have kept my mouth shut until I did some homework. So, after I was through reading his very strongly worded response to my post, that’s what I did. And though one of his links was busted, the other led to some relevant information, namely a web site about Peter Duesberg with links to many of his articles.

He’s a cell biologist at UC Berkeley and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. (Apparently, I should have know that. After all, as a scientist I should know all the NAS members, right?) He published papers in the late 1980s hypothesizing that AIDS was not in fact caused by HIV, but by recreational drug and other medication use.

I guess in the late 1980s this may have seemed a reasonable hypothesis, and in a sense he got it half right. HIV is indeed spread by IV drug use using shared needles, and therefore, in a sense, AIDS is caused by drug use. But as the weight of evidence accumulated supporting a viral cause of AIDS, and antiretroviral drugs were developed to slow the disease progression, his hypothesis was essentially disproved.

But he wouldn’t admit it. As time when on, his viewpoints just started to seem silly. According to this web site, he’s now been threatened with expulsion from the NAS and has had major trouble finding funding for his research. Of course this is blamed on the ‘scientific mainstream’ and various governments; they have spent so much money on research assuming a viral cause that they can’t entertain anything else because it would make them look bad.

The site has posted a number of his papers which mostly deal with his hypothesis of AIDS – that it’s caused by recreational and non-recreational drug use and not a virus. And at this point, I was intending to look at one of these papers and analyze Dr. Duesberg’s arguments.

But I’m punting. I started, but the further in I got, the more I realized that there were just too many errors and half-truths to address . And I just don’t have the time and energy to do the necessary research to find all the specific evidence that contradicts his claims.

Debunking is a long, hard, tedious job and I have great respect for those who can do it, but unfortunately I don’t think that includes me.

Now I can hear the argument. “Carpus, if you haven’t looked in detail at all this yourself, how do you know it’s not true? Aren’t you just going on faith?” I’ll tell you why. Because I do science. I know what went into my training and how I’ve been taught to tackle a question. I know that people in every discipline of science go through a similar process.

And I know how research is vetted, picked apart, looked at with skepticism, and trashed if it’s not good. As a matter of fact, I just today had an article rejected by a journal. Personally I think it’s pretty good research; but I’m going to have to go back, take a long hard look at it, and realistically evaluate whether all the pieces fit together. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m going to do it, because maybe the journal’s reviewers are right and I’m wrong.

And I know that other scientific research goes through the same process. I know that we treat HIV with antiretrovirals because they work. They extend life. There are randomized clinical trials that show it and these are the best evidence we have to show cause and effect.

And when someone tells me that all this is wrong, despite all the evidence, I just don’t believe. It’s an extraordinary claim, and requires extraordinary evidence to prove. And I will tell you that the evidence Dr. Duesberg is presenting is not extraordinary. It’s full of errors, selective ignoring of evidence, and bad reasoning.

And that’s why I’m not going to review any of his articles specifically. If you think I’m wimping out, so be it.

I will continue to read up, however, and maybe at some other date, I’ll change my mind.

I will certainly give you the link if you’d like to read the articles yourself, though.